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Evolution of Soils on Quaternary Reef Terraces of Barbados, West Indies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Daniel R. Muhs
U.S. Geological Survey, MS 980, Federal Center, Box 25046, Denver, Colorado, 80225


Soils on uplifted Quaternary reef terraces of Barbados, ∼125,000 to ∼700,000 yr old, form a climo-chronosequence and show changes in physical, chemical, and mineralogical properties with terrace age. Parent materials are dust derived from the Sahara, volcanic ash from the Lesser Antilles island arc, and detrital carbonate from the underlying reef limestone. Although some terrace soils are probably eroded, soils or their remnants are redder and more clay-rich with increasing terrace age. Profile-average Al2O3 and Fe2O3 content increases with terrace age, which partially reflects the increasing clay content, but dithionite-extractable Fe also increases with terrace age. Profile-average K2O/TiO2, Na2O/TiO2, and P2O5/TiO2 values decrease with terrace age, reflecting the depletion of primary minerals. Average SiO2/Al2O3 values also decrease with terrace age and reflect not only loss of primary minerals but also evolution of secondary clay minerals. Although they are not present in any of the parent materials, the youngest terrace soils are dominated by smectite and interstratified kaolinite-smectite, which gradually alter to relatively pure kaolinite over ∼700,000 yr. Comparisons with other tropical islands, where precipitation is higher and rates of dust fall may be lower, show that Barbados soils are less weathered than soils of comparable age. It is concluded that many soil properties in tropical regions can be potentially useful relative-age indicators in Quaternary stratigraphic studies, even when soils are eroded or changes in soil morphology are not dramatic.

Research Article
University of Washington

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